Friday, June 5, 2009

E3 2009: Danny Goes to E3 - Full Report Here!

Holy crap, this week has been insane, in the best possible way. I mean, there's a lot to talk about, but the biggest and best bit of news is that I got to do something I've wanted to do since I was a kid - I went to E3!

Yep, as a wee lad I would sit on my bed flipping through GamePro and PSM and dreaming of the techno-glory that was the Electronic Entertainment Expo, the mecca of all things videogames, the place where, each year, the major hardware and software manufacturers showed their latest wares. Basically, it was paradise on earth for every red-blooded kid or kid at heart who ever wielded a joystick. Last year, I got a small taste of E3, as I was able to attend Microsoft's press conference. While a lot of fun, the overall feeling last year, even just in terms of that presser, was that E3 had lost its luster. The show had been scaled-back, cut-down-to-size. It was now a sober, minimalist affair.

But this year, E3 was back, and I was there, baby. The bright lights and gigantic booths were back, as were the booth babes. There were big announcements, hundreds of new games, lots of surprises. Celebs were in the house. Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo brought out the big guns. Walking through the E3 show floor on Tuesday, it was the slice of fanboy heaven I had long imagined. I looked in one direction and saw a giant jumbotron displaying an eye-melting trailer for Final Fantasy XIII at the Square-Enix booth. I looked in the other direction and saw Microsoft displaying the newest iteration of Halo - Halo:ODST, to throngs of eager gamers. I saw a sprawling line wrapped around the Sony booth, as gamers waited to take a crack at Kratos' latest adventure in God of War III, and I saw a giant DJ booth designed to showcase the latest Guitar Hero spinoff, DJ Hero. The sights and sounds were sensory overload, and yes, my friends, it was awesome.

To me, E3 next year should be open to the public. Make it the videogame industry's version of Comic-Con. Why waste all this coolness on a bunch of journalists and business people? I mean, there's already a large percentage of attendees who are basically just diehard gamefans who have gotten their grubby hands on passes anyways. Why not blow open the floodgates and give John Q. Public the chance to play the latest and greatest games? Maybe next year?


But anyways, I think the three majors all had pretty darn good E3's, to be honest. Last year, Nintendo had one of the most infamous press conferences in E3 history, failing to show a single real game for the Wii and trotting out Miyamoto only for him to show off the much anticipated epic known as ... Wii Music. This year, Nintendo seemed to start things off on a similarly anticlimactic note, but ultimately showed off a couple of big guns that somewhat redeemed them. The fact is that Nintendo still only showed off one real blockbuster title for 2009, and that was New Super Mario Bros. for the Wii. The title, a multiplayer take on the classic Mario formula (sort of a Mario-style version of Little Big Planet), looks like a lot of fun. Should Nintendo have a lot more for '09? Yes. But ... Nintendo ended their press conference on a huge high note. Not only did they give face-time to a number of high-profile, hardcore gaming franchises that will have new installments on the Wii, but they also had two huge debuts. The first, Super Mario Galaxy 2, was expected but, come on, it's a new mainline, 3D Mario game. I'm sure it will be awesome. The second debut was somewhat out of left field, which made it that much cooler. A new Metroid game - 2.5D, realistic graphics, and developed by Team Ninja, the acclaimed studio behind the Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive series. Team Ninja + Metroid = potentially REALLY kickass, and to me it was this announcement that saved the show for Nintendo. It was basically a beacon of hope that said "hold the phone, the Nintendo of old still lives" (even if the games are being outsourced to Team Ninja). The fact is, Nintendo has never been the same since it lost Rare to Microsoft, so it was a welcome surprise to see them once again partnering with a great outside studio.

Even with these signs of life, I still have to rank Nintendo's presence at E3 as the weakest of the Big 3. The Wii is really beginning to look weak compared to its technologically-superior rivals, and the software lineup just isn't there where it can stand neck and neck with the XBOX or PS3. While the increased third party support is great, the fact is that the Wii is ultimately still getting somewhat watered-down versions of Resident Evil, Final Fantasy, Dead Space, etc. So for the hardcore Nintendo fan, I think they can take solace that there are two new Mario titles due out, a badass new Metroid, and even a new Zelda game in the pipeline (not shown at E3, but hinted at by Miyamoto). But the Wii is still too gimmicky. It still doesn't have the lineup of games beyond all the Wii-Motion and Motion Plus stuff to really stand on. But compared to last year? A much better showing from the Big N.


Sony's actual press conference was a little shaky this year - certainly nowhere near as smooth of a presentation as Microsoft's, and lacking MS' huge starpower in terms of celebs and whatnot (hard to compete with McCartney, Ringo Starr, and Spielberg!). But, when you look at the actual content Sony had to display, there was an incredibly strong lineup of games. I think that when you look at Sony's lineup of exclusives for the rest of 1009 and early 2010, there is a strong argument to make that they are at the top of the heap. I mean, God of War III alone ... to me that is THE game of E3, an absolutely killer app that will certainly be a system-seller. If you fancy videogames and don't drool at the thought of hi-def, blu-ray God of War mayhem ... well, check your gamer card at the door, my friend. And Uncharted 2 ... it looks absolutely amazing. Uncharted 1 was one of the most fun, and certainly most visually impressive games I've ever played. Part 2 looks to up the ante in every respect. Sony just has an overall stellar lineup, with games in many genres that all fell unique (unlike XBOX, where every game seems cut from the same cloth). Ratchet & Clank Future 2, Heavy Rain, MAG ... those are all very different games that all look great.

Those games were expected, but Sony had a couple of nice surprises as well. One was a trailer for The Last Guardian, the much-anticipated next game from Team Ico. Another was Metal Gear Solid: Peacewalker for the PSP. A full-fledged MGS game, it looked positively awesome.

Speaking of the PSP, Sony lost a lot of potential momentum by having the news of the PSP Go leak prior to E3. But the fact remains that it's a slick-looking piece of hardware, and is part of an overall push for the portable device. This push includes a ton of hot-looking new PSP games, from Soul Caliber to Resident Evil to Little Big Planet.

What would have given Sony that final extra boost? An announcement of a PS3 price-drop, for one. Sony needs to get more systems out there, and their hardware is still prohibitively pricey. I think a price-drop could have been that final element that would have put Sony over the top at E3. Otherwise, Sony is still playing a lot of catch-up in terms of digital distribution and social gaming. Things like Facebook and Twitter on XBOX may be relatively small announcements, but they give the impression that Microsoft is emphasizing community. Microsoft also really wowed with its Project Natal, whereas Sony's own Motion Control demo, while potentially much more practical to gaming, didn't have quite the oomph of Microsoft's big reveal.

Overall though, I very much appreciate that Sony has the games that aren't simply bleak FPS shooters, and aren't simply toys for grandma to play with at a party. There are games with COLOR like Uncharted and Ratchet, and games that are experimental and that aspire to be art, like Heavy Rain and Last Guardian. Now they just need to up the installed base, which is going to be a daunting task if a price drop isn't announced soon.


MS rocked it at E3, no question. I was lucky enough to attend their press conference in person on Monday, and it was truly an amazing event. There were no real lulls, no lags in pacing - it was a perfectly-staged event built for maximum wow-factor and impact. I mean, the thing kicked off with some amazing footage from Rock Band: The Beatles, and then Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr actually showed up to greet the crowd and plug the game. Later on, Tony Hawk showed off his latest game, and after that, Steven friggin' Spielberg helped to present the super-advanced Project Natal. All of these appearances were kind of incidental, and Rock Band and Tony Hawk aren't even exclusive to XBOX. But there could be no question, Microsoft owned Sony and Nintendo in terms of putting on a show at E3.

As far as Natal goes ... I wasn't sold at first, but like everyone else, my jaw dropped when Peter Molyneux showed off his Milo demo. The technology just seemed so, I don't know, sci-fi. When the woman interacting with the virtual character Milo drew a picture on a real piece of paper, "handed" it to Milo, and then had that piece of paper, with the same drawing, appear on-screen ... well, it may have been *the* "holy-$#*&" moment of E3. Realistically, who knows what a Milo game would actually be like. And who even knows to what extent Natal can be a real game-changer for the XBOX as opposed to just a cool-looking tech demo. Who even knows when the thing will actually be released to consumers. But, no question, Microsoft used the Natal to put on a hell of a show.

As for the games ... Microsoft impressed with a couple of their 360 exclusives, although personally, I didn't see a ton that really appealled to me as a non-fan of FPS shooters. Alan Wake looked really interesting. Epic Games' Shadow Complex, and XBOX Live Arcade game, was prob my pick for coolest XBOX game of the show - a 2D side-scroller that hearkened back to old-school Metroid and Castlevania. The new Splinter Cell looked very cool as well, and UbiSoft looks to have really nailed the gameplay with this one.

MS also had a major blow to Sony in its announcement that the new next-gen Metal Gear game will in fact be multiplatform. Metal Gear Solid: Rising is still likely a long ways away, but, that was really a key Sony exclusive that now joins Final Fantasy XIII as a big get for XBOX. It was one more "f-you" to Sony, and it was obvious that MS was lovin' the fact that they were able to bring Hideo Kojima up on their stage at E3.

Finally, like I said before, Microsoft really has its $#%* together when it comes to all the online stuff. The fact that you will soon be able to instantly stream HD, 1080 p movies and TV shows is pretty great. And the Facebook and Twitter integration seems like it will be very novel and well-done. As far as being a multimedia wonderbox, Sony has the whole blu-ray advantage, but in many other respects, Microsoft is, at least for now, the leader.

Again, personally I didn't see many XBOX-exclusive games that really tickled my fancy. I'm not a Halo player, so ODST didn't do much for me. And there were A LOT of grey games. give me bright color, imagination, etc. any day of the week. That said, Microsoft had the best E3 press conference, and the Natal is clearly the most buzzed-about thing coming out of E3. You've got to give a ton of credit to Microsoft.

DANNY'S TOP 10 GAMES OF E3 (In Playable Form ...):

1. God of War 3 - Sony, PS3

2. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves - Sony, PS3

3. Brutal Legend - EA, PS3 & XBOX 360

4. Final Fantasy XIII - Square Enix, PS3 & XBOX 360

5. Bayonetta - Sega, PS3 and XBOX 360

6. New Super Mario Bros Wii - Nintendo, Wii

7. Assassin's Creed 2 - Ubisoft, PS3 & XBOX 360

8. Ratchet & Clank Future 2: A Crack In Time - Sony, PS3

9. Mass Effect 2 - EA, PS3 & XBOX 360

10. Shadow Complex - Microsoft / Epic Games, XBOX 360

DANNY'S TOP 5 GAMES OF E3 (Non-Playable):

1. Metroid: Other M - Nintendo, Wii

2. The Last Guardian - Sony, PS3

3. Metal Gear Solid: Peacewalker - Konami, PSP

4. Super Mario Galaxy 2 - Nintendo, Wii

5. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Konami, PS3 & XBOX 360

But yeah, E3 '09 was a strong indicator that E3 is in fact back. I had a great time attending the show. On the show floor, I got to talk games to the cast of one of my fave TV shows, CHUCK, met Mickey Rourke (!), and most importantly, got to live out my longtime dream of actually attending E3. Hopefully my first time won't be my last! Check me out on facebook to see lots of great photos. But man, it's a good time to be a game fan, and it was a week for the record books for me.

COMING SOON: Long-awaited reviews of UP and DRAG ME TO HELL, plus: I go to a taping of Inside the Actor's Studio!

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